My life changed forever on a sunny afternoon in late May 2011. I was about to head out on a walk when I happened to run into my religious superior, who asked me if he could talk to me for a minute. No problem there. But what he proceeded to tell me left me flabbergasted.
He said that a discussion had been ongoing for some time about my role as editor of Reality magazine, the monthly publication of the Irish Redemptorists. He said that people in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the chief enforcer of orthodoxy in the Vatican, were not happy with some of the content of the magazine, and that the Redemptorist superior general in Rome had been instructed to inform the superior in Ireland that I was to be removed from my position as editor with a month’s notice.
I tried to take all this in but was dumbfounded. It couldn’t be true. It sounded like a joke.
My superior went on to say that both he and the Redemptorist head in Rome had lobbied hard on my behalf and that they had been able to hammer out a compromise. I could remain as editor subject to five conditions: I could not publish anything that was 1) supportive of the ordination of women, 2) critical of mandatory celibacy, 3) in favour of general absolution, 4) opposed to the church’s stance on homosexuality, and 5) could be seen as disrespectful of the person of the Holy Father. Furthermore, the content of every issue would have to be approved by a censor prior to publication.
I was told that all of this had been hammered out in talks at the highest level over the previous several weeks, and that I was being informed of it now because the Redemptorist head in Rome was coming to see me in two days’ time. A cover story would be invented to explain the sudden appearance in Dublin of the superior general of the Redemptorists.
I was also told that I had to keep this information to myself, that it was highly confidential, and that I shouldn’t talk about it even to my family and friends.
And that was it. I went on my walk with my head spinning.
The superior general did visit for a couple of days and he told me the story from scratch, how one day a file appeared on his desk from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) with a list of allegations/findings against me and a demand that I be removed from office. The superior general could not have been nicer to me during that visit, and expressed amazement time and again at the shoddy case that the CDF had put together against me. He had met several times with Cardinal Levada, head of the CDF, and the best compromise they could reach was to leave me in office but under the restrictions outlined above.
Again the importance of secrecy was emphasized. I was not to talk to anyone about it. It was not a matter for public consumption.
And that was it.
During those first few days, I felt numb. I was bombarded with so much information that was shocking to me, but it was almost as if they were talking about someone else, not me. I couldn’t understand why people in the Vatican would be getting their knickers in a twist about a small magazine published on the periphery of Europe. I couldn’t believe that people would spend time trawling through back issues looking for evidence to build or substantiate a case against me. I couldn’t believe that the head of the CDF would himself become personally involved. And, most of all, I couldn’t believe that my case had been discussed for weeks or months without anyone talking to me about it. I was allowed to go about my daily business totally oblivious to what was happening.
It took a while for the enormity and injustice of what happened to me to sink in. I grant that there was a small bit of me that was chuffed that the Vatican had noticed our magazine and got themselves in a lather over it. But then I began to feel angry and betrayed. I was angry not so much that self-appointed defenders of the faith had reported me to the Vatican but that faceless bureaucracts had taken these delators so seriously. I was angry that they would begin a process against me without ever letting me know I was being investigated.
How can you defend yourself if you don’t know you are on trial? How can you defend yourself if you don’t know who your accusers are? How can you defend yourself when your fate has been decided even before you discover you have been on trial? It is an utterly unjust and unchristian system.
I couldn’t believe that I had been walking around for weeks, doing my work in the office and in the parish, while all the while my loyalty and my future was being discussed behind my back. I met my superior and the others on his leadership team many times during those weeks, at meals, on the corridors, out and about, and none said a word to me about what was going on. I know that they were in a difficult situation too and they were were not allowed to talk about it but it just goes to show how flawed and unjust the CDF process is. One is tried, found guilty and sentenced, before you even know you were on trial. And yet next Sunday’s gospel will tell us that people will “know we are Christians by our love.”
I felt angry and hurt that this is how the church would treat me after I had devoted my whole life to it. The powers that be in Rome would accept the word of (anonymous) delators against my solid record of a quarter century of loving service of the church. It took a few weeks before I started to cry whenever I thought about it. Tears of anger, shock, self-pity and betrayal. I had given my life to the church, and this is how I had been repaid. Any criticism I had made of the church was out of love, and they didn’t even have the decency either to ignore the delations or give me a chance to reply to them before they handed down sentence. They didn’t give me the chance to defend myself, privately or publicly.
All communication was through my superiors. The CDF people never communicate directly with the person under investigation. They knew my address, they knew my email, they could find my phone number, but they always go through higher channels. They never dignify the culprit with a direct and personal response. I don’t think it’s how Jesus would have done it. Something is rotten in the state of the CDF, and while the current people and processes remain in place, nothing will change. Priests, sisters and brothers will continue to be treated as less than human, and will have their lives hurt or broken.
It’s been almost two years since I woke up with chronic lower back pain that has never gone away. I wonder how much of it is due to the way I was treated by the CDF? I think the stress that experience caused me is one of the main reasons why today I am broken in body as well as in spirit. Stress takes a toll, injustice has a price, and I am paying it every day.
Today a group of 15 people who have fallen foul of the CDF have published a letter we sent to Rome asking for reform of the system. The letter was sent about seven weeks ago. As one would expect, there has been no formal acknowledgement or reply. I won’t hold my breath.
Embargoed until Wednesday 20 April 2016
Catholics decry modern-day inquisition
An international group of Catholic sisters, priests and lay people, all of whom have been ‘delated’ (i.e. reported) and subjected to ‘examination’ by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), formerly known as the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition, have said that this body “doesn’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the Catholic Church professes to uphold” and that are called for by Pope Francis. They also say that the CDF “acts in ways that are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organizations.”
“Can you get justice from a body that acts as investigator, accuser, judge and jury and then imposes the penalty?” spokesman for the group, church historian Paul Collins asks. “And then, if an appeal is made, it is heard by the same people,” Collins adds. The accused have to deal with secrecy and anonymity, often having to negotiate with the CDF at third or fourth hand via a network of superiors and bishops. “People are not informed as to who accused them,” Collins says, “there is no presumption of innocence, the accused don’t know who is judging them with prosecutors acting as judges; they don’t even know who their defense counsel is. They are usually never given a chance to defend themselves verbally and in person. Letters go unanswered for months, or are “lost”.
“Many of those investigated find the process completely draining, isolating and exhausting because it can involve excommunication and exclusion from ministry. It seems designed to wear you down psychologically. It is completely alien to the values of Christ and the gospels,” Collins says.
The group of fifteen, which includes two bishops, prominent theologians, people working in creative areas of ministry, and Catholic writers and broadcasters, have written to Pope Francis and to the Prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, asking for an open discussion about the procedures of the Congregation and calling for approaches that respect human rights and the need for free speech, pluralism, transparency and accountability within the church community. Among those who have signed the letter are two pastorally effective and highly respected bishops, Bishops Patrick Power and William Morris of Australia, one of the United States’ most influential moral theologians, Father Charles Curran, long-term minister to gay people and Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, prominent systematic theologian, Sister Elizabeth Johnson of Fordham University, New York, Spanish Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, Benedictine nun and physician, Irish communicators and writers Fathers Tony Flannery, CSsR and Brian D’Arcy, CP, and American Father Roy Bourgeois, priest and human rights activist.
One of those recently investigated by the CDF, Father Tony Flannery, says that “Under the last two popes, as the Church became increasingly centralized, the Magisterium was understood as the Vatican, or, more specifically, the Curia, and in particular the pre-eminent body within the Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But an older understanding, which was central to the Second Vatican Council, has a more complex, wider view of what constitutes the Magisterium. According to this perspective, it consists of the Vatican, the bishops of the universal Church, the body of theologians, and, most significantly of all, the sensus fidelium, the good sense of the ordinary Catholic faithful. The Council goes so far as to say that unless a teaching is accepted by the consensus of the faithful it cannot be considered a defined teaching. This is the kind of theology we are trying to get through to the CDF.”
The letter to the CDF’s Cardinal Müller was sent in late-February 2016. As of 18 April 2016 no acknowledgement or response had been received from the CDF. “This,” Collins says, “is par for the course. They don’t even acknowledge letters from people they have ‘examined’ This follows a pattern that is typical of the clerical culture of the church.”
Pope Francis has said that: “Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, concerns, investigation, but it is alive, knows how to disturb, and knows how to animate. It does not have a rigid face. It has a body that moves and develops’ (To Italian bishops and Laity, 9 November 2015). In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia in response to the Synod on the Family, Pope Francis has also said: “Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching, or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth.”
Our experience is that the Congregation has some distance to go to live up to the Pope’s expectations and his calls for a better approach to deciding doctrinal matters.
Sister Jeannine Gramick 1301 864304
Fr Roy Bourgeois 1 706-682-5369
Dr Paul Collins 61 412 550 370 (cell) or 61 2 6262 6159
Fr Tony Flannery 353 8768 14699
Fr Marciano Vidal
Attachment: The New Process
A New Process for the Church and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
He who is the object of an enquiry should be present at the process, and, unless absent through contumacy, should have the various headings of the enquiry explained to him, so as to allow him the possibility of defending himself. As well, he is to be informed not only of what the various witnesses have accused him of, but also of the names of those witnesses. (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215)
Nowadays it is widely agreed in the church that the processes and procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) are contrary to natural justice and in need of reform. They represent the legal principles, processes and attitudes of the absolutism of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. They don’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the church professes to uphold. They are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organizations. The purpose of this proposed new approach is to reflect the attitude of Jesus (Matthew 18:15-17) and to integrate values that the world sees as basic to a functioning, civilized society.
Principles Underlying any New CDF Process
Underlying any church procedures must be a set of principles that involve a just and equitable process, accountability on the part of the CDF and Bishops’ Conferences, the presumption of sincerity, innocence, and loyalty to the church on the part of the person being investigated, as well as transparency and the wider involvement of the local Catholic community and the Synod of Bishops representing the universal church. The process appended to this set of principles tries to avoid some of the worst aspects of the present CDF’s investigations as experienced by the signatories and others who have been involved in dealing with the CDF over the last decades.
1 The basic principle must be to avoid anonymous denunciation by person(s) unknown to those being investigated. By naming them publicly, you stop frivolous claims by often totally unqualified individuals or organizations.
2 The same applies to the secret CDF appointed consulters. Consulters need to be named and their qualifications or otherwise in the area under consideration, be scrutinized. This also gives the one being investigated a chance to know the biases and expertise/training or otherwise of each of the consulters appointed by the CDF.
3 The whole issue of enforced secrecy and the often crippling isolation of the person being investigated must be circumvented by the CDF being made to deal directly and personally with them. They should be no longer be dealt with at third and fourth hand via a network of bishops and superiors – who might even have been the primary accuser of the person being investigated in the first place.
4 People being investigated have very often found that their work is inaccurately or unfairly interpreted by CDF consulters, or sentences or opinions are taken totally out of context and that the qualifications that they have made are completely ignored. Consulters they have never heard of, or are completely unknown to them, become the sole arbiters of the correct interpretation of their work. Even opinions they don’t hold are attributed to them. The involvement of the persons being investigated and their counsel from the beginning to some extent circumvents this. It also makes sure that consulters, whose sole experience is of the Roman schools of theology with its emphasis on propositional approaches to doctrinal positions, are challenged, and are not accepted as normative for those working on the prophetic edge of theological and ministerial frontiers.
5 People under investigation have often complained of the sheer rudeness and lack of even basic politeness – let alone Christian charity – on the part of CDF personnel. Letters are ignored, or lost. Processes are dragged out in an attempt to wear down the resistance of those being investigated. Even extremely sick or dying people have been investigated and forced to respond to often silly accusations. Strict time limits and direct personal face-to-face communication would circumvent this. With supporting counsel present and the knowledge that all documentation and the names of accusers and all personnel involved will be revealed to the wider Catholic community and the media will bring about at least some measure of accountability which at the present moment is totally lacking in CDF processes.
6 The process must prevent the same people acting as investigators, prosecutors and judges. By referring on-going cases to the Synod of Bishops the process takes decision-making out of the hands of CDF, and re-situates the views under investigation within the broader cultural context in which they were first articulated.
7 The wider community of theologians, the faithful people of God and the sensus fidelium are involved in the discernment of the faith and belief of the church. No longer should the CDF and its Rome-based advisers be the sole arbiters of correct doctrine and belief.
8 The process should be no longer characterized by the absolutist presumptions of an antiquated legal system that has nothing to do with the Gospel. The process should be tempered by the mercy and forgiveness of God, and by the open dialogue that should characterize the community of Jesus. It integrates something of the contemporary emphasis on human rights and the need for free speech, pluralism, transparency and accountability within the church community.
Dr Paul Collins, writer and broadcaster, Australia
Rev Charles Curran, Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, USA
Rev Roy Bourgeois, priest and activist, USA
Rev Brian D’Arcy CP, writer and broadcaster, Ireland
Rev Tony Flannery CSsR, writer and broadcaster, Ireland
Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, Benedictine nun and physician, Spain
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Loretto Sister, Co-Founder, New Ways Ministry, USA
Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ, Distinguished Professor of Theology, Fordham University, New York, USA
Professor Paul Knitter, Emeritus Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture, Union Theological Seminary, New York, USA
Rev Gerard Moloney, CSsR, Editor, Ireland
Bishop William Morris, Bishop Emeritus of Toowoomba, Australia
Rev Ignatius O’Donovan, OSA, Church Historian, Ireland
Rev Owen O’Sullivan, OFM Cap, Chaplain and Writer, Ireland
Bishop Patrick Power, retired Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra- Goulburn, Australia
Rev Marciano Vidal, CSsR, Former Ordinary Professor, Pontifical University Comillas, Madrid, Spain, Extraordinary Professor, Alphonsian Academy, Rome